Dukes County will suspend the Integrated Pest Management program at the end of the month. The decision comes on the heels of a vote by the county commissioners on May 22 to issue a request for proposals (RFP) seeking bidders who want to provide pest control services to Island towns.
In recent months, officials in several towns raised questions about the value of the taxpayer-subsidized county program to their towns when much of its activity focused primarily on private accounts.
In a letter dated June 6 sent to selectmen and administrators in the six Island towns, county manager Martina Thornton said the county would suspend pest management services to all Martha’s Vineyard towns and residents as of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, because not all the towns had agreed to share the costs of the program.
“This is due to the fact that at their annual town meetings only Aquinnah and Chilmark approved participation in the Dukes County Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) the way it was proposed by the County, which combined funding would not be sufficient to run the program for these two towns alone,” she said.
As part of the RFP process, Ms. Thornton asked officials in the six Island towns to send her a list of municipal buildings and properties to be serviced no later than June 17. Ms. Thornton told town officials, “I hope to have the bids in the second week of July at which point I will inform you of your options.”
Monday night, Edgartown selectmen voted not to participate in the county bid program. Instead, Edgartown, which pays the lion’s share of the county assessment and had paid the largest share of the IPM program, will issue its own RFP.
“I met with our department heads that actually use the service today, the ones that actually use the service,” town administrator Pam Dolby told selectmen Monday. “We would like to request that you allow us to just go on our own. We have some changes we’re going to make. We have an issue with moles, voles, and rats. We have a major issue with skunks in the downtown area in the summertime. We think this is the best way for us to go.”
Ms. Dolby said the town will seek a one-year agreement for private pest control, and could reconsider using county services next year, if the county program proves cost effective.
The IPM program has been a one-man department headed by county employee T.J. Hegarty of West Tisbury. The program, focused primarily on rats, offered rodent control at no cost for municipal buildings and at a heavily subsidized cost to residents and businesses.
A recent analysis by The Times of six months of IPM billing records showed town and county buildings to be the smallest category of customers served, about 15 percent of service calls. The program’s largest account, the Mattakessett Resort and Winnetu Inn, a sprawling vacation property in Katama, accounted for one third of Mr. Hegarty’s work load for the entire county.
In a telephone call late Friday, Ms. Thornton said the RFP would be tailored to the needs of individual towns. She said she did not think skunks would be included in this RFP, but could be added separately.
Last December, Edgartown selectmen highlighted a downtown skunk problem. But when chairman Michael Donaroma asked Mr. Hegarty whether he could do anything about skunks in the downtown area, Mr. Hegarty told selectmen that he traps skunks privately, not as part of the county pest control program, and that it would be cost prohibitive.
Ms. Thornton said skunk removal requires a separate license. She said adding a provision for skunks could impede the RFP process. “Separating it out might make more sense,” she said.
Asked about the future status of Mr. Hegarty, who now earns $51,735 plus benefits, Ms. Thornton said, “As of July 1 he will no longer be a county employee.”
In a telephone conversation Friday, Tisbury selectman and county advisory board member Jeff Kristal said the county’s decision to seek bids benefits taxpayers.
“I always think it’s good when you are using taxpayer money to go out and get the best price and value for the services that are being rendered,” Mr. Kristal said. “I think we should be looking at everything that we do to make sure we are getting the best service and fair value for what the towns are demanding.”
At one time, the county picked up the entire cost of pest control services. In 2008, the county commissioners helped to erase a looming budget deficit by shifting 50 percent of the cost from the county budget to taxpayers. The percentage of contribution was increased each following year with the intention that taxpayers would eventually fund 100 percent of the program, in addition to the assessment they already pay for the county’s operating costs.
Island towns financed 90 percent of the rodent control program in this fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
In addition, taxpayers picked up the cost of the school’s IPM program, $300 per school, through the school budget.
The county assessed Dukes County towns $670,518 for county operating costs this year, plus an additional $54,015 to fund the IPM program. Edgartown paid the largest share of the additional IPM charge, $19,737. Chilmark paid $8,551, Oak Bluffs $8,016, Tisbury $7,832, West Tisbury $7,081, Aquinnah $2,053, and Gosnold $745.
Revenue generated by service calls covered about one third of the program’s operating costs, or approximtely $29,000 to date in this fiscal year.
In March, the county advisory board members, who are responsible for oversight of the county budget, learned of a $572,726 surplus in Dukes County accounts at the end of fiscal 2012.
The news of a surplus arrived just before annual town meeting season and just before the county, through identical articles placed on annual town meeting warrants, asked taxpayers to entirely fund the Integrated Pest Management Program and the county’s Health Care Access program.
West Tisbury voters refused to fund the IPM program. One voter said he objected to spending money “on an entity that doesn’t know how much money it has.”
Tisbury voters approved an article to appropriate $12,861 for a pest management program to include skunks, which did not commit the town to use the county program.
In Oak Bluffs, voters approved funding IPM with the provision that the selectmen were not obligated to spend the appropriation until they signed an intermunicipal agreement on terms acceptable to them.
The push for changes in the county IPM program came from the county advisory board, which includes one selectman from each Island town. Last month, the board pressed the county to change the IPM program and solicit bids.
At a meeting on May 22, the county commissioners voted unanimously to issue a request for proposals seeking bidders who want to provide pest control services to Island towns.
County commissioner Melinda Loberg of Tisbury said at the May 22 meeting that putting the services out to bid would help towns make a decision about whether they want to continue a regional approach, or contract individually for pest control services.
Commissioner Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs said a competitive bidding process would benefit taxpayers.
The commission’s decision to issue an RFP came after a testy meeting of the county advisory board, where representatives from Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs said they would not sign a memorandum of agreement outlining the scope of services offered by the county.
Representatives from Aquinnah, Chilmark, and Edgartown had wanted to continue the program as it now operates.
The absence of the IPM program will require the county to revise its operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on July 1.
The county advisory board has asked the county commissioners to revise their budget, and return to them for a final review.
A public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 18, at 4 pm in the Oak Bluffs Library public meeting room.